Twenty million of the twenty-six million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change as of 2010 are women. The bottom line is that the poor are most heavily impacted by climate change, and the vast majority of people living on less than a dollar a day are women.
Studies show that women are more susceptible then men to the harmful effects of toxic pollution from fossil fuels and industrial processes. As mothers and life-givers, climate change effects women in deeply personal ways, such as the dangerous health effects of carbon emissions on pregnant women and developing babies.
The stresses that many Indigenous women and women in developing countries experience as a result of environmental degradation and climate change are even more severe due to their direct reliance on nature and primary resources for their survival. Drought, flooding, and unpredictable temperatures increase burdens on millions of women worldwide who, due to gender roles and norms, hold primary responsibility for providing food, water and firewood for their families.
Looking at a deeper analysis, it is clear that that women face these disproportionately severe climate harms because at a global scale, their economic, political, and social rights continue to be denied. Women, for example, are much more likely to die in extreme weather events for reasons ranging from a lack of financial independence from male family members, to things as simple as never being permitted to learn how to swim.
Thus, when we reflect on the dire climate impacts felt by women, it is essential that we reflect on roots causes - namely the culture of patriarchy based on domination over nature and women that has been institutionalized worldwide to varying degrees. It is essential that we embrace this systemic perspective so that we can take bold steps to shift our cultural narratives and challenge the worldviews that produce and enforce the twin problems of environmental destruction and gender inequality.
However, I highlight women’s stories as the most vital untold climate story not only because of their increased vulnerability, but because of their profound power and agency. Women hold the keys to just, holistic solutions for a livable planet.
Countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties, and in North America, women decide roughly 80 percent of all consumer purchases. This means that women are in the drivers seat when it comes to moving towards sustainability policies, renewable energy and decreased consumption.
On a global scale, women produce half of all the food we eat and are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of household food production in developing countries. Women are keepers of seeds and biodiversity, and in many communities are largely responsible for the water, food, and medicinal needs of their families, making them natural guardians of these most precious gifts. When we speak about achieving food sovereignty and security, we are talking about women.
Women’s work is often not ‘seen’ because it is happening at the local, small scale, however this is exactly what we need to meet the growing challenges presented by climate change. It is precisely the centralized, top-down, and large-scale processes of our current economic, energy, and food systems that have led to this crisis. The reclamation of power at the local level and the redesign of our economies towards circular, holistic frameworks is just what we need, and women are vital to this process. They are among the most powerful actors that hold localized knowledge and social capital necessary to implement adaptive and innovative measures.
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Unfortunately women’s points of strength are not often recognized, leveraged, supported, or mobilized into action. We face a situation that is the opposite of what we need - women’s voices remain silenced and underrepresented, be it in national and international climate policymaking or within our own communities and homes. The Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) and other women’s groups worldwide are working to change this.
As we approach the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris this December 2015, women’s experiences and solutions are more vital than ever. With this in mind, WECAN International has released a call for a Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action on September 29, 2015.
Over the next month, and on September 29th itself, women and allies around the world will hold decentralized local actions to show resistance to environmental and social degradation, share stories surrounding the climate impacts their communities are facing, and demonstrate a variety of real solutions that are equitable and in line with the severity of our global situation.
The goal is to show the women’s movement for climate justice in all of its power, passion, and diversity, and to present our collective voice in such a way that world governments gathered at the UN General Assembly in September, and COP21 climate negotiations in December, are pushed to listen to our calls for justice, gender-responsive policy-making, and bold climate action.
As part of the Day of Action, women have the opportunity to sign and collect signatures on the Women’s Climate Declaration (available in 5 languages), which will be delivered to world leaders gathered at COP21 as a way of presenting women’s demands and visions for an alternative to destructive market-based solutions.
We know, and must push governments to see, that the window of opportunity for acting on climate change is not going to be open for much longer. Our children are watching. The lives of current and future generations are at stake. These are all reasons to get involved, but another one that we so often fail to mention is LOVE. We love this Earth, and it’s about time we stand up, change radical course, and return to our role as Earth-respecting citizens.
We cannot underestimate the power of people taking direct action to resist the institutions that are interfering with our democracy, freedom, health, happiness, and the very web of life itself.
You can add your voice to the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action by organizing an action, or simply uploading a photo, video, or statement to the global submission portal on (or before!) September 29.
For an in depth analysis and action plan for our way forward though Paris and beyond, please see theWomen’s Climate Action Agenda.